I’m really feeling it!
Super Smash Bros. has evolved as a term. What was once a charmingly unique (but simple to play) party fighter has now become a segregated franchise. The introduction of Melee in 2001 saw the formation of the series’ first competitive scene, which quickly split the Smash fanbase into two definable groups – casual and hardcore.
The release of Brawl in 2008, a game objectively aimed at ensuring an exploit-free casual experience, furthered that gap. Toss in the competitive, Melee-inspired mod Project M for the Wii and the devoted fans still smashing away on the N64 and it becomes apparent that what makes a “good” Smash game will heavily vary depending on who you ask.
That’s why I was thrilled to discover that Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS does not strive to solely cater to one of the franchise’s many audiences. Instead, it proudly stands on its own two feet as a unique entry, and to a smashing success (no pun Nintended). While many noble Smash-enthusiasts will admit that Smash’s 3DS entry very much serves to fill the gap until the beefier, flashier Wii U version arrives this holiday season, there is not much missing that makes it feel unjustified. With a mountain-high roster of unique, inspired Nintendo characters, multiple ways to play with friends, and solo modes that compliment the pick-up-and-play nature of handheld titles, the entry does more than enough to sell itself both as a handheld debut and a worthwhile Smash sequel.
The gameplay itself has a distinctly unique feel, even when ignoring the new control scheme. While being forced to roll with L and grab with R (without customizing controls) may take some getting used to, it can’t be correlated to the new mechanics the game introduces. One of the most notable of those is the new edge-grabbing mechanic, which now eliminates the inability for a fighter to grab the ledge if another character is currently on it. While it seems like a minor tweak to a complex formula, the emphasis on off-stage combat it establishes feels fresh and inspired.
Perhaps most worthy of praise is the game’s character variety, which earns high marks in both quality and quantity. Though several clone characters (who offer little to no difference to their sister characters) steal a few spots on the massive roster, the brand new faces that have made the cut more than make up for them. The swift, patient playstyle of Punchout‘s Little Mac and the balanced, exercise-inspired Wii Fit Trainer offer innovative ways to play the very familiar franchise. The completely customizable (both cosmetically and moveset/stat-wise) Mii Fighters also punch a huge amount of content and charm into one little character slot. While those hoping for Ridley or Mewtwo may still be upset by the final roster, I’m sure they can find a suitable replacement in the game’s diverse 49-character lineup.
My only gripe with the colossal roster is how easy it is to unlock it in its entirety. A mere 120 matches will unlock all 14 hidden characters. Compare it to Melee’s 1000 matches demanded to unlock Mr. Game and Watch to get an idea of the effort hidden fighters once demanded. Those looking to hop into the game’s entire roster sooner rather than later will consider it a plus, but if you were hoping for some creative ways to unlock later characters you’ll unfortunately be let down.
On the other side of the spectrum is the game’s stage selection, which personally feels a bit limited to me. Although 30 stages is nothing to complain about, as a semi-competitive player there are not too many stages to play on which don’t throw in a handful of gimmicks that disrupt the usual flow of combat – such as aggressive NPCs and stage transformations. Granted, casual players just looking for a good time with friends will probably appreciate the creative charm that went into these stage aspects.
However, to combat pandering to the casual crowd, Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS introduces an optional “final destination” variant of each stage, which eliminates all platforms and disturbances and leaves only one long platform. It’s an extremely welcomed feature, since without it I could likely count the number of stages I care to play on with one hand – even if the new feature only adds different backdrops to the iconic final destination stage.
For those flying solo the 3DS entry offers a lot of familiar ways to send people flying off the screen. These include all-star, stadium, and training mode. Features you won’t see returning from past entries are adventure mode, Subspace Emissary, and event matches.
Although present in past titles, classic mode has received a notable transformation to better cater to handheld players. Unlike previous versions, classic mode now sees the player proceed along a map, choosing one of three character franchises to follow before the start of each round. Each playthrough is comprised of 5-7 battles (which include the quirky giant, multi-man, and metal battles fans have come to expect) and lasts a mere 10-15 minutes. Along the way the player will snatch up random bits of unlockable content, such as custom character moves, Mii outfits, and trophies. Though the short amount of time needed to complete each playthrough means there is little in terms of surprises, it’s a great way to easily pick up your handheld in between classes or on a train ride home while still being able to have a complete experience.
Despite a segregated fanbase, it’s a pretty common consensus that multiplayer is where Smash Bros. shines brightest. The same is true in its 3DS entry, although minor setbacks prevent it from being an incredible experience. Smash run, for example, is an entirely new multiplayer mode which has isolated players fighting hoards of enemies and collecting powerups in a giant maze for five minutes. When the timer runs out, those powerups will be given to the player in order to help them face off against their three opponents. However, the major flaw with the mode is that players are unaware of what their final challenge will be – whether it’s a traditional battle or a foot race. This makes knowing what powerups will help the player impossible, and ultimately cements smash run as a random mode which does not compliment skill or encourage strategy.
On a similar note, players have finally received a semi-proper matchmaking bracket in “for glory” mode – a one-on-one, itemless battle which keeps track of the player’s wins and losses. However, notable lag often hinders the experience. Unless both players are on a stable, speedy internet connection, there will likely be some degree of lag present (which at points makes matches unplayable).
Another major missing feature is the ability to message friends, or even invite them to an open lobby. Unless you happen to be browsing through the “play with friends” menu, the only way to be notified that your friend is looking for a match still demands the use of outside communication. It’s a painful reminder that Nintendo still hasn’t taken as many digital strides as they could have since Brawl was released.
As it seems is the inevitable case of the series, Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS is not some almighty entry that manages to fully satisfy every type of Smash player – but it doesn’t lose itself trying to. If you can get used to some slightly unfamiliar controls, occasionally stuttering online play, and some irritatingly absent communication features, you’ll likely enjoy much of what you find in one of the series’ and the 3DS’ best titles. I’m hopeful that my personal grievances may be addressed when the Wii U version launches in the next few months.